In an industry where new technologies spring up like weeds, it can be hard to identify a product or approach that will be a true game changer.
And while I profess no special psychic abilities, and offer no lead-pipe-locks, one emerging trend that has captured my imagination recently could prove to be just that.
Over the past year, a collection of new product announcements have started filling my inbox with news of various imaging approaches designed to take 360-degree panoramic or spherical pictures — stills and videos (either or both depending on the product).
The hype appears to have started with image-stitching software designed to assemble panoramic pictures into a single wrap around view. It then evolved with the launch of panoramic imaging apps for the iPhone and Google’s Photo Sphere 360-degree panorama app in version 4.2 of the Android mobile OS.
In recent months, it appeared in dedicated cameras from familiar brand names, like Ricoh (Theta) and Voxx (360Fly), and less familiar start-ups launching their dreams through Kickstarter or some other crowd-sourcing vehicle (many inspired by Nick Woodman’s insanely successful GoPro action camera).
The problem thus far is that the concept is so different it can be hard for the average consumers to even conceptualize without a demonstration. After all, how do you see one image all around you?
Fortunately, the proliferation of 360-degree still images now prevalent on Google Street Views is helping to correct that.
To date, most 360 images are viewed on handheld devices like smartphones or tablets that the viewer can hold up and pivot around them to change the perspective within the image — above, around and below.
In addition, companies like Canon, Epson, Google, Oculus VR, Sensics and Sony are hard at work on virtual- or augmented-reality headgear viewers that will soon enable experiencing spherical images that literally put the viewer in the center of the picture.
From here, it’s not hard to imagine the possibilities for a whole new genre of entertainment. Don’t be surprised if we soon start to see 360-degree video projectors designed to present professional- or even home-theater in the round.
On paper at least, the concept is so different and immersive, it could bring the sense of excitement manufacturers promised but ultimately failed to deliver with stereoscopic 3DTV.
Where it goes next will be fun to watch. Benjamin Arnold, NPD Group consumer technology industry analyst, told me that while he hasn’t started to track the category yet, “I would love to see this in the growing [virtual-reality] market. I can see Sony and GoPro looking to integrate this into their imaging lineup.”
“I think the concept is great,” he continued. “It’s something that will get the attention of consumers. I’d call it a wow. I’m just a little skeptical of the application or use case.”
Beyond smartphones and action cameras, the technology has been used in video-surveillance systems for some time, and will soon emerge in consumer friendly security cameras from France-based Giroptic among others.
One thing is for certain, we can expect to see more and more 360 cameras in the market in short order, and with them a new opportunity for industry growth. Stay tuned to TWICE for further developments.